Tales of a Grandfather, by Walter Scott

Chapter 65

THE Presbyterians of Scotland had been placed by the Revolution in exclusive possession of the Church government of that kingdom. But a considerable proportion of the country, particularly in the more northern shires, remained attached to the Episcopal establishment and its forms of worship. These, however, were objects of enmity and fear to the Church of Scotland, whose representatives and adherents exerted themselves to suppress, by every means in their power, the exercise of the Episcopal mode of worship, forgetful of the complaints which, they themselves had so justly made concerning the violation of the liberty of conscience during the reigns of Charles II. and James II. We must here remark, that the Episcopal Church of Scotland had, in its ancient and triumphant state, retained some very slight and formal differences, which distinguished their book of Common Prayer from that which is used in the Church of England. But in their present distressed and disconsolate condition, many of them had become content to resign these points of distinction, and, by conforming exactly to the English ritual, endeavoured to obtain a freedom of worship as Episcopalians in Scotland, similar to the indulgence which was granted to those professing Presbyterian principles, and other Protestant dissenters in England. The Presbyterian Church Courts, however, summoned such Episcopal preachers before them, and prohibited them from exercising their ministry, under the penalty of fine and imprisonment, which, in the case of one person (the Rev. Mr Greenshields), was inflicted with no sparing hand. Others were insulted and ill-used by the multitude, in any attempt which they made to exercise their form of worship. This was the more indefensible, as some of these reverend persons joined in prayer for the Revolution establishment; and whatever conjecture might be formed concerning the probability of their attachment to the exiled family, they had laid aside every peculiarity on which their present mode of worship could, be objected to as inferring Jacobitism. An Act of Toleration was therefore most justly and rightfully passed (February, 1712) by Parliament, for the toleration of all such Episcopal clergymen men using the Church of England service, as should be disposed to take the Oath of Abjuration, renouncing all adherence to the cause of James II. or his descendant, the existing Pretender. This toleration gave great offence to the Presbyterian clergy, since it was taking out of their hands a means, as they alleged, of enforcing uniformity of worship, which, they pretended, had been insured to them at the Revolution. Every allowance is justly to be made for jealousies and apprehensions, which severe persecution had taught the ministers of the Scottish Church to entertain; but impartial history shows us how dangerous a matter it is to intrust the judicatures of any church with the power of tyrannizing over the consciences of those who have adopted different forms of worship, and how wise as well as just it is to restrict their authority to the regulation of their own establishment. The Presbyterian Church was still more offended by the introduction of a clause into this Act of Toleration, obliging the members of their own church, as well as dissenters from their mode of worship, to take the Oath of Abjuration. This clause has been inserted into the Act as it passed the House of Commons, on the motion of the Tories, who alleged that the ministers of the Kirk of Scotland ought to give the same security for their fidelity to the Queen and Protestant succession, which was to be exacted from the Episcopalians. The Scottish Presbyterians complained bitterly of this application of the Oath of Abjuration to themselves. They contended that it was unnecessary, as no one could suspect the Church of Scotland of the least tendency towards Jacobitism, and that it was an usurpation of the State over the Church, to impose by statute law an oath on the ministers of the Church, whom, in religious matters, they considered as bound only by the Acts of their General Assembly. Notwithstanding their angry remonstrances, the Oath of Abjuration was imposed on them by the same act which decreed the tolerance of the Episcopal form of worship on a similar condition. The greater number of the Presbyterian ministers did at length take the oath, but many continued to be recusants, and suffered nothing in consequence, as the Government overlooked their non-compliance. There can be little doubt that this clause, which seems otherwise a useless tampering with the rooted opinions of the Presbyterians, was intended for a double purpose. First, it was likely to create a schism in the Scottish Church, between those who might take, and those who might refuse the oath, which, as dividing the opinions, was likely to diminish the authority, and affect the respectability, of a body zealous for the Protestant succession. Secondly, it was foreseen that the great majority of the Episcopal clergy in Scotland avowedly attached to the exiled family,” would not take the Oath of Abjuration, and were likely on that account to be interrupted by the Presbyterians of the country where they exercised their functions. But if a number of the Presbyterian clergy themselves were rendered liable to the same charge for the same omission, and only indebted for their impunity to the connivance of the Government, it was not likely they would disturb others upon grounds which might be objected to themselves. The expedient was successful; for though it was said that only one Episcopal minister in Scotland, Mr Cockburn of Glasgow, took the Oath of Abjuration, yet no prosecutions followed their recusancy, because a large portion of the ministers of the Kirk would have been liable to vexation on the same account. Another act of the same session of Parliament, which restored to patrons, as they were called, the right of presenting clergymen to vacant churches in Scotland, seemed calculated, and was probably designed, to render the churchmen more dependent on the aristocracy, and to separate them in some degree from their congregations, who could not be supposed to be equally attached to, or influenced by a minister who held his living by the gift of a great man, as by one who was chosen by their own free voice. Each mode of election is subject to its own particular disadvantages. The necessity imposed on the clergyman who is desirous of preferment, of suiting his style of preaching to the popular taste, together with the indecent heats and intrigues which attend popular elections, are serious objections to permitting the flock to have the choice of their shepherd. At the same time, the right of patronage is apt to be abused in particular instances, where persons of loose morals, slender abilities, or depraved doctrine, may be imposed, by the fiat of an unconscientious individual. upon a congregation who are unwilling to receive him. But as the Presbyterian clergy possess the power of examination and rejection, subject to an appeal to the superior church courts, whatever may be thought of the law of patronage in theory, it has not, during the lapse of more than a century, had any effect in practice detrimental to the respectability of the Church of Scotland. There is no doubt, however, that the restoration of the right of lay patrons in Queen Anne’s time was designed to separate the ministers of the Kirk from the people, and to render them more dependent on the nobility and gentry, amongst whom, much more than the common people, the sentiments of Jacobitism predominated.

These measures, though all of them indirectly tending to favour the Tory party, which might, in Scotland, be generally termed that of the Stewart family, had yet other motives which might be plausibly alleged for their adoption. Whatever might be the number and importance of the Lowland gentry in Scotland, who were attached to the cause of the Chevalier de St George, and that number was certainly very considerable, the altered circumstances of the country had so much restricted their authority over the inferior classes, that they could no longer reckon upon raising any considerable number of men by their own influence, nor had they, since the repeal of the Act of Security, the power of mustering or disciplining their followers, so as to render them fit for military service. It was not to be expected that, with the aid of such members of their family, domestics, or dependents, as might join them in any insurrection, they could do more than equip a few squadrons of horse, and even if they could have found men, they were generally deficient in arms, horses, and the means of taking the field.

The Highland clans were in a different state; they were as much under the command of their superior chiefs and chieftains as ever they had been during the earlier part of their history; and, separated from civilisation by the wildernesses in which they lived, they spoke the language, wore the dress, submitted to the government, and wielded the arms of their fathers. It is true, that clan wars were not now practised on the former great scale, and that two or three small garrisons of soldiers quartered amongst them put some stop to their predatory incursions. The superior chieftains and tacksmen, more especially the duinhe wassals, or dependent gentlemen of the tribe, were in no degree superior in knowledge to the common clansmen. The high chiefs, or heads of the considerable clans, were in a very different situation. They were almost all men of good education, and polite manners, and when in Lowland dress and Lowland society, were scarce to be distinguished from other gentlemen, excepting by an assumption of consequence, the natural companion of conscious authority. They often travelled abroad, and sometimes entered the military service, looking always forward to the time when their swords should be required in the cause of the Stewarts, to whom they were in general extremely attached; though. in the West Highlands the great influence of the Duke of Argyle, and in the North that of the Earl of Sutherland and Lord Reay, together with the Chiefs of Grant, Ross, Munro, and other northern tribes, fixed their clans in the Whig interest. These chiefs were poor; for the produce of their extensive but barren domains was entirely consumed in supporting the military force of the clan, from whom no industry was to be expected, as it would have degraded them in their own eyes, and in those of their leaders, and rendered them unfit for the discharge of their warlike duties. The chiefs, at the same time, when out of the Highlands, were expensive as well as needy. The sense of self-importance, which we have already noticed, induced them to imitate the expenses of a richer country, and many, by this inconsistent conduct, exposed themselves to pecuniary distress. To such men money was particularly acceptable, and it was distributed among them annually by Queen Anne’s Government, during the latter years of her reign, to the amount of betwixt three and four thousand pounds. The particular sum allotted to each chief was about L.360 Sterling, for which a receipt was taken, as for a complete year’s payment of the bounty-money which her Majesty had been pleased to bestow on the receiver. These supplies were received the more willingly, because the Highland chiefs had no hesitation in regarding the money as the earnest of pay to be issued for their exertions in the cause of the House of Stewart, to which they conceived themselves to be attached by duty, and certainly were so by inclination. And there can be no doubt, as the pensions were sure to be expended in maintaining and increasing their patriarchal followers, and keeping them in readiness for action, it seems to have been considered by the chiefs, that the largesses were designed by Government for that, and no other purpose. The money was placed at the disposal of the Earl of Mar, Secretary of State, and his being the agent of this bounty, gave him the opportunity of improving and extending his influence among the Highland chiefs, afterwards so fatally employed for them and for himself. The construction which the chiefs put upon the bounty bestowed on them was clearly shown by their joining in a supplication to the Queen, about the end of the year 1713, which got the name of the Sword-inhand Address. In one paragraph, they applaud the measures taken for repressing the license of the press, and trust that they should no longer be scandalized by hearing the Deity blasphemed, and the sacred race of Stewart traduced, with equal malice and impunity. In another, they expressed their hopes, that, after her Majesty’s demise, “ the hereditary and parliamentary sanction might possibly meet in the person of a lineal successor.” These intimations are sufficiently plain, to testify the sense in which they understood the Queen’s bounty-money.

The Duke of Argyle, whose own influence in the Highlands was cramped and interfered with by the encouragement given to the Jacobite clans, brought the system of their pensions before Parliament, as a severe charge against the Ministers, whom he denounced as rendering the Highlands a seminary for rebellion. The charge led to a debate of importance.

The Duke of Argyle represented that “ the Scots Highlanders, being for the most part either rank Papists, or declared Jacobites, the giving them pecuniary assistance was, in fact, keeping up Popish seminaries and fomenting rebellion.” In answer to this the Treasurer Oxford alleged, “ That in this particular he had but followed the example of, King William, who, after he had reduced the Highlanders, thought fit to allow yearly pensions to the heads of clans, in order to keep them quiet; and if the present Ministry could be charged with any mismanagement on that head, it was only for retrenching part of these gratuities.” This reference; to the example of King William, seemed to shut the door against all cavil on the subject, and the escape from censure was regarded as a triumph by the Ministers. Yet as it was well understood, that the pensions were made under the guise of military pay, it might have been safely doubted, whether encouraging the chiefs to increase the numbers and military strength of their clans was likely to render them more orderly or peaceable subjects; and the scheme of Ministers seemed, on the whole, to resemble greatly the expedient of the child’s keeper who should give her squalling charge a knife in order to keep it quiet.

These various indications manifested that the Ministry, at least a strong party of them, were favourable to the Pretender, and meant to call him to the throne on the Queen’s decease. This event could not now be far distant, since, with every symptom of declining health, Anne was harassed at once with factions among her subjects and divisions in her councils, and, always of a timid temper, had now become, from finding her confidence betrayed, as jealous and suspicious as she had been originally docile in suffering herself to be guided without doubt or hesitation. She had many subjects of apprehension pressing upon a mind which, never of peculiar strength, was now enfeebled by disease. She desired, probably, the succession of her brother, but she was jealous lest the hour of that succession might be anticipated by the zeal of his followers; nor did she less dread, lest the effects of that enthusiasm for the house of Hanover, which animated the Whigs, might bring the Electoral Prince over to England, which she compared to digging her grave while she was yet alive. The disputes betwixt Oxford and Bolingbroke divided her councils, and filled them with mutual upbraidings, which sometimes took place before the Queen; who, naturally very sensitive to the neglect of the personal etiquette due to her rank, was at once alarmed by their violence, and offended by the loose which they gave to their passions in her very presence.

The Whigs, alarmed at the near prospect of a crisis which the death of the Queen could not fail to bring on, made the most energetic and simultaneous preparations to support the Hanoverian succession to the crown, by arms, if necessary. They took special care to represent, at the court of Hanover, their dangers and sufferings on account of their attachment to the Protestant line; and such of them as lost places of honour or profit, were, it may be believed, neither moderate in their complaints, nor sparing in the odious portraits which they drew of their Tory opponents. The Duke of Argyle, and Generals Stanhope and Cadogan, were actively engaged in preparing such officers of the British army as they dared trust, to induce the soldiers, in case of need, to declare themselves against the party who had disgraced Marlborough their victorious general — had undervalued the achievements which they had performed under his command, and put a stop to the career of British conquest by so doing. The Elector of Hanover was induced to negotiate with Holland and other powers, to supply him with troops and shipping, in case it should be necessary to use force in supporting his title to the succession of Great Britain. A scheme was laid for taking possession of the Tower on the first appearance of danger; and the great men of the party entered into an association, binding themselves to stand by each other in defence of the Protestant succession. While the Whigs were united in these energetic and daring measures, the Tory Ministers were, by their total disunion, rendered incapable of availing themselves of the high ground which they occupied, as heads of the Administration, or by the time allowed them by the flitting sands of the Queen’s life, which were now rapidly ebbing. The discord between Oxford and Bolingbroke had now risen so high, that the latter frankly said, that if the question were betwixt the total ruin of their party, and reconciliation with Oxford and safety, he would not hesitate to choose the first alternative. Their views of public affairs were totally different. The Earl of Oxford advised moderate measures, and even some compromise or reconciliation with the Whigs. Bolingbroke conceived he should best meet the Queen’s opinions by affecting the most zealous high church principles, giving hopes of the succession of her brother after her death, and by assiduously cultivating the good graces of Mrs Hill (now created Lady Masham), the royal favourite; in which, by the superior grace of his manners, and similarity of opinions, he had entirely superseded the Lord Treasurer Oxford.

This dissension betwixt the political rivals, which had smouldered so long, broke out into open hostility in the month of July, 1714, when an extremely bitter dialogue, abounding in mutual recriminations, passed in the Queen’s presence betwixt Lord Treasurer Oxford on the one part, and Bolingbroke and Lady Masham on the other. It ended in the Lord Treasurer’s being deprived of his office. The road was now open to the full career of Bolingbroke’s ambition. The hour he had wished and lived for was arrived; and neither he himself, nor any other person, entertained a doubt that he would be raised to the rank of lord treasurer and first minister. But vain are human hopes and expectations! The unfortunate Queen had suffered so much from the fatigue and agitation which she had undergone during the scene of discord which she had witnessed, that she declared she could not survive it. Her apprehensions proved prophetic. The stormy consultation, or rather debate, to which we have alluded, was held on the 27th July, 1714. On the 28th, the Queen was seized with a lethargic disorder. On the 30th her life was despaired of.

Upon that day, the Dukes of Somerset and Argyle, both hostile to the present, or, as it might, rather now be called, the late, Administration, took the determined step of repairing to the Council-board where the other members, humbled, perplexed, and terrified, were well contented to accept their assistance. On their suggestion, the treasurer’s staff was conferred on the Duke of Shrewsbury, a step with which the dying Queen declared her satisfaction; and thus fell the towering hopes of Bolingbroke.

On the 1st of August Queen Anne expired, the Last of the lineal Stewart race who sat on the throne Of Britain. She was only fifty years old, having Reigned for twelve years; and her death took place At the most critical period which the empire had Experienced since the Revolution.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29